With one bullet encased in his liver and another floating in his right side, Nick Bierbrodt likely holds the distinction of pitching in the major leagues with the most rounds of ammunition lodged in his body.
“Yeah, not sure if I hold that record or not,” said Bierbrodt, now throwing for the Sky Sox and able to laugh about a 2002 encounter that nearly took his life.
Bierbrodt was in the back seat of a taxi in Charleston, S.C., waiting at a Hardees drive-thru where he got into a verbal spat with someone on a bicycle who happened to be carrying a gun.
“I didn’t like what he had to say; he didn’t like what I had to say,” Bierbrodt said. “And he shot me.”
One bullet passed through Bierbrodt’s right arm before entering his abdomen. The other entered directly into his chest.
Police called it a random act of violence.
The 1996 first-round pick, who broke into the majors with Arizona and Tampa Bay the year prior to the shooting, spent the next four days in intensive care, in and out of surgery. Doctors said removing the bullets could lead to more harm, so they left them.
Other than that, they told Bierbrodt he was incredibly lucky. He avoided long-term damage, only having to rest for eight weeks.
Bierbrodt, already skinny in his 6-foot-5 frame, lost 30 pounds.
“It’s just incredible how fast things can happen,” then Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar told the St. Petersburg Times days after the shooting. “Here’s a young man that the sky was the limit.”
He made it back to the majors in 2003 — first with Tampa Bay, then with Cleveland — but never regained his form.
His big league career was finished the following year.
Bierbrodt quit baseball after the 2008 season. He took EMT and fire science classes as the initial steps toward what he hopes will be a career as a California firefighter.
Then the Rockies called, and fires were pushed to the backburner.
“I want to do that eventually, but not if I can make more money in baseball,” he said.
It all — the shooting, the big-time prospect status — feels like a different life for Bierbrodt now. His appearance for the Sky Sox on Thursday was his first action in a non-independent league since 2004. He retired the only Albuquerque batter he faced.
A large scar down the middle of his stomach is the only reminder of the left-hander’s brush with violence. He keeps so quiet about the incident that not even his new manager, Stu Cole, knew.
“I’ve had a few reporters ask me about it,” Bierbrodt said. “Other than that, I mean, it was eight years ago. It’s not something I think about.”